Beyond Good and Evil

More than moral reasoning.

The Anti-Batman

James Holmes: Mass Murderer and Moral Insanity

The saying, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, is rarely taken to heart. People tend to react to crises after the fact. Yet as society becomes increasingly complex, and the social and traditional mass medias influence thinking, we need to find a better way productively to guide our conscious actions for our own good, and for the common good. Dr. Leon Pomeroy sheds light on this path by drawing on the work of Albert Ellis and Robert Hartman to build a science of values that helps all. Dr. Bill Knaus, former director of post-doctoral training in rational emotive behavior therapy.

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Introduction 

Although we can never prevent the deranged actions of the wild cards of the human race (people with brain wiring problems and no moral compass), we can do much to eliminate needless human misery by building strong and sane societies based on a science of values.  

Reason and science-based moral education is the only path to a system of preventive-psychology where we can tip the balance toward positive mental health over disturbance and derangement. Rational emotive behavior therapist, Albert Ellis, and philosopher of Values, Robert Hartman, cast a light on this path. I want to spotlight a day of death in Aurora and share some thoughts on what we can do to lower the risk of a recurrence.

A Tragic Day in Aurora Colorado

The movie theater at Aurora is like any other. This is normally a safe place. You can comfortably view entertaining Hollywood creations. Twenty minutes into The Dark Knight Rises, real bullets broke the spell of being in another world.

It wasn’t supposed to happen. At first, this seemed surreal. It couldn't be real! It was real! Then, some members of the audience died. Some suffered wounds. Some escaped the hell of it all but with psychological injuries.

Many more were traumatized by observing the tragic aftermath on TV and through their computers. As we mourn this tragedy, we’re left asking why?

Canaries in the Mine of Civilization

Miners used to have canaries in the mine so they would have an early warning if methane or carbon monoxide leaked into the mineshaft. The gases would kill the canary before killing the miners. I think we have enough evidence of toxic conditions across societies to heed a warning. However, will we?

James Holmes made his appearance on the stage as yet another canary warning of worse things to come. Included in this cast of characters we find (1) Columbine High School shooters, Eric David Harris and Dylan Bennet Klebold; (2) Chicago mass murderer Richard Speck, who killed eight nursing students; (3) Texas tower mass murderer Charles Whitman, who murdered 16; (4) Norwegian killer, Anders Behring Breivik who murdered 77 people;  (5) Virginia Tech mass murderer, Seung-Hui Cho who killed 32 people; (6) Fort Hood Islamic terrorist,  Major Nidal Malik Hasan, who murdered 13, et. al.

What are the worse things to come? Let’s not forget the major world tyrants, National Socialist Adolph Hitler, Chinese communist leader, Mao Zedong, Soviet communist leader, Josef Stalin, and Cambodian communist leader, Pol Pot. Collectively, these mass murders oversaw the needless deaths of over 100,000,000 people. Unless we’re mindful of  a recurrence of this moral, madness, and take corrective actions, we are doomed to repeat history, but perhaps on a greater scale where billions needlessly die as the result of the moral insanity of a subgroup of people in power.

Moral Science versus Moral Insanity

Mass murderers are more than crazy people who are also moral morons.  They are morally insane. See Do You Believe Moral Insanity Exists?

Holmes appears to have been drawn, like Batman, to what Manohla Dargis (New York Times review of the Batman movie) calls the fatal attraction of the “ambivalent good vs. multidimensional evil.”

The perception of multidimensional evil, as opposed to the ambivalent perception of good, is a sign of moral confusion, astigmatism, obtuseness or even blindness. It is an issue made increasingly worse by the tension between high-tech materialism and low-tech morality. In any case, moral education promotes the perception of multidimensional good capable of warding off multidimensional evil. I have in mind an upgrade of historic 3R education to 4R education consisting of reading, writing, arithmetic and rational moral education based on the universal language of science as a way of striking a better balance between intellectual and emotional education.

I’ll focus on moral science, moral insanity, and moral education as expressions of axiological science that help us understand what makes the Holmes of the world tick. 

What can we, as society, do?

Axiological Science to the Rescue

Question: Is there a better way to inoculate society against the rising tide of such violence while making the “mine of civilization” safer for us all?

Yes. Axiological science of values and morals results from the convergence of evidence-based psychological and philosophical thought. The psychological dimension is found in the work of the rational emotive therapist, Albert Ellis. The philosophical dimension is found in the work of philosopher Robert Hartman’s theory of value. My published research brings them together and transforms Hartman's theory of value into a science of values. Axiological psychology is now the foremost application of this new science. .

Ellis’s philosophy includes unconditional acceptance of self, others, and life.  This means, taking things for what they are, not what they should be. He emphasized thinking rationally in both his therapy and in his own life. These two values merit scientific review. Axiological science has an important role to play in the empirical investigation of these and other values systems to discover what provides the better foundations for making reasoned judgments.

Without the involvement of axiological science, striking this balance is left to partisan politics. Without the involvement of axiological science, we will continue to overly “psychologize” and “pathologize” the James Holmes of the world. Worse, we risk the emergence of slick-tonged tyrants whose underlying pathology aims at mass control ending in mass destruction.

A consideration of moral insanity, and how to deal with it, is a far more productive approach and one that opens up the frontier of moral education as tomorrow’s preventive psychology today.   For a framework for this moral science, see Beyond Good and Evil

© Dr. Leon Pomeroy, Ph.D.

Leon Pomeroy, Ph.D., teaches at George Mason University and is the author of The New Science of Axiological Psychology.

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